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Utah Travel Headlines

Friday, August 15, 2014

Proposed Gondola, Other Development Threatens Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon - photo by Dave Webb
Two planned developments on the edge of the Grand Canyon are prompting outcries from people who want to preserve the wildness of the wildness of the area. One would bring major luxury resort development just outside the main park entrance. The other would create a resort on the eastern rim, on Navajo Land, complete with a gondola that could take 4,000 people a day to the bottom of the canyon.

Proponents say the development will allow more people to enjoy the areas natural wonders and bring needed employment to areas where poverty is a major problem. Opponents say the moves would forever alter the nature of the canyon, ruining some of the wilderness experience.

Like them or not, the projects will probably move forward, unless there is outcry from people who love the canyon.

NationalGeographic.com has this detailed article about the proposals. Here are excerpts:

Tourists who may not otherwise be able to visit the floor of the canyon could ride a gondola to the confluence (of the Colorado and Little Colorado) a mile below. There they would stroll on an elevated walkway and take in the stunning view from stadium-style seating.

"In a world hungry for harmony and beauty, can you think of a better place than the Grand Canyon?" Whitmer asks.

The plan, now pending before the Navajo Nation Council, has caused division on the reservation and with other tribes, including the Hopi, who say the canyon, and the confluence in particular, are sacred and should not be disturbed.

"The Grand Canyon is a place that people come to be awed by Mother Nature's work over millions of years," said Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga, who calls the threats facing the park the gravest in its 95-year history.

The tribe and the park service disagree over who controls the land by the river where the lower part of the project is planned. The Navajo say their reservation starts at the river, while the park service claims its boundary goes a quarter mile up. Uberuaga says the park service would use its jurisdiction to stop development there. The Navajo Nation will exert its sovereignty, Tome says. "We're not going to acquiesce to the National Park Service whatsoever."

The project is also likely to be challenged by the Hopi, Kuwanwisiwma says. The Hopi Salt Trail runs along the Little Colorado River by the confluence and onto the sipapuni, or place of emergence, upstream.


Writing in the New York Times, Kevin Fedarko offers this take on the proposed developments. Here is his headline and a couple excerpts:

A Cathedral Under Siege

Among its many demands, the development requires water, and tapping new wells would deplete the aquifer that drives many of the springs deep inside the canyon — delicate oases with names like Elves Chasm and Mystic Spring. These pockets of life, tucked amid a searing expanse of bare rock, are among the park’s most exquisite gems.

The cable system would take more than 4,000 visitors a day in eight-person gondolas to a spot on the floor of the canyon known as the Confluence, where the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River merge with the emerald green current of the Colorado. The area, which is sacred to many in the Hopi and Zuni tribes, as well as Navajo people, would feature an elevated walkway, a restaurant and an amphitheater.

“We have multiple ways for people of all ability levels to experience the canyon, whether it’s taking a slow trip on the river, riding one of the burros, hiking the trails, or even flights or helicopters,” said Bob Irvin, president of the conservation group American Rivers. “But if we start building gondolas and other forms of development, we lose much of what makes the Grand Canyon so special. It would be a devastation, a sacrilege, to build that structure there.”

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